Cuban Gardens

Cuban gardens were a new subject for me until I recently traded in our cold Canadian weather for a week of hot Cuban “winter” weather and a plant tour that reminded me of my indoor plants back home in Canada.

Cuban Resort garden

Cuban Resort garden

Not only were the blooms and foliage amazing, but the air itself is full of a scent that is indescribable. While unable to pinpoint any specific scent, upon closer examination  of Cuban gardens, I was able to identify many plants as those “tropicals”,  for sale in garden centres and greenhouses here in Ontario.

Schefflera

This four story plant is one of many Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree) plants growing around our resort and seen all over the island. Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree). The genus is fast growing in tropical and subtropical areas to the extent it is classified as a weed in these areas. With idea conditions here in Cuba, the actinophylla species has  long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk and  also produces long red tentacle blooms.

 

Schefflera flower

 

Here in Ontario Canada and other colder climates, where our cold winters prevent idea growth, we grow Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf schefflera)  which has much smaller leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation and generally doesn’t get the right conditions for blooming. Under ideal conditions it produces creamy coloured berries.

Schefflera_arboricola_

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Pelee Island Trip

Pelee Island trips can  be wonderful and defiinately an adventure as mentioned previously, when I  found poison ivy there. This noxious weed is only one among countless found on this quaint island. Certainly the entire island cannot be appreciated in one day, but I did see lovely woodlands, stunning beaches and heard many songbirds. In addition to being a calm, natural spot, I found it oddly exhilarating being at the southernmost tip of Canada.

 

Wikipedia Pelee Island Aerial

 

Pelee Island Trip

My Pelee Island trip began from Leamington Ontario, home of the Big Tomato Information booth and the largest number of greenhouses in Canada. Despite how much I enjoy Ketchup on fries, I spent no time viewing the area or its tomatoes before heading to the docks. There I boarded the Jimaan Ferry for a 1 hr. and 45 minute trip to the main dock on the island’s west side.

 

Pelee Island Ferry

The ferry sold a variety of items in their gift shop including several interesting books on Pelee as well as the standard nautical souvenirs. On the wall there was a topographical map of the surrounding area, so I got a better idea of how close we were to the U.S. and the number of islands that make up what is known as The West Lake Erie Islands.

 

These islands, regardless of their country of ownership, form what is called an Archipelago. This is the term for a chain or cluster of islands, which in this case support a Carolinian forest eco system. While I was familiar with Carolinian forests, as my cottage is in one such area, until I visited Pelee I had no idea of the range of these environs.

In fact, “Carolinian” itself is a term used to describe a life or vegetative zone in Eastern North America characterized by a predominance of deciduous trees. Over the years since the origin of this designation came in to use in 1859 by J.G. Cooper of the United States, its usage has changed. Now the term is primarily used in Canada, and referred to as Eastern Deciduous or Eastern Woodlands, in the U.S.

Carolinian Forest

The northern edge of the area encompassed is below an approximate line drawn between Toronto on Lake Ontario to Grand Bend on Lake Huron, with the southern extension in to the Carolinas. In this area are pockets of the fertile mixed wood plains, as seen on Pelee Island. The Great lakes modify the surrounding area allowing animals, birds and plant life to survive, that are seldom found in other areas of Canada.

Typical Carolinian forest; trees are a mix of Hickory, Black Walnut,Sycamore, Chestnuts, Oaks and the rarer Red Mulberry, Dwarf Hackberry, Tulip tree and Kentucky Coffee trees. Not surprisingly, Poison Ivy is one of the native vines for this area, while wildflowers, Swamp Rose Mallow, Tall Coreopsis,Wild Bergamot,wild Lupine and Yellow Lotus can also be found blowing in the meadows and wetlands.

 

Yellow Lotus

 

Pink Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique animals and reptiles are there as well. In fact the Island is home to the Gray Fox found only in one other location in Manitoba and a Blue Racer snake which is only found on Pelee. There are many more examples of wildlife unique to this area and island, many of which are now endangered species!

Unfortunately Carolinian forests are frequently near large populated areas of Ontario and then are at risk due to loss of wetlands, as cities grow. Even farmland expansion has a downside as it can destroy natural nesting and living areas. Certainly the balance of economy vs preservation of a natural eco system is quite delicate.

On Pelee Island, the farming has declined from 33 farms to less than 10 over the last twenty years as farmers’ retired and new machinery allowed larger tracts to be managed by individual farms. The population has declined as well. Around 1900 had almost 800 residents with 4 schools, 4 churches and 3 general stores. Certainly current transportation and recession issues have had an impact on the islands economy as there are only approximately 275 year round residents with one store, a post office, LCBO, bike rentals a few B&Bs and several restaurants.

As well Pelee Island Winery adds to the islands economy and provides another attraction for visitors. Fishing, boating, scenery and the annual Pheasant Hunt draw many tourists here and countless birders come each spring as migration patterns peak.

But  no Pelee Island Trip would be complete for me until I witnessed the peak …the  sandy one at the end of the island! As a gardener and lover of nature I certainly appreciated the lovely trees blowing in the wind and the birds heard high overhead but getting away was my main goal. In fact I was lookiing forward to leaving the city behind for some beach combing and a calmer atmosphere.

 

 

Beachcomber

Part of the calm I found was in the natural landscape, feeling the sand through my toes and hearing countless birds call from the shore. With the sun high overhead, beach combing was amazing as I headed to the end of Fish Point Park…to wave at the United States and the thousands of seagulls resting on the sandy finger that ends this lovely island.

 

 

Pelee Island was a joy to visit and I look forward to enjoying the Carolinian forest, friendliness of the residents and the lovely blooms of their gardens, in the near future…and of course walk the sandy shores and breath the fresh Lake Erie air!

 

Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee island came as quite a shock to me! Poison ivy is not new to rural gardeners  and has been the subject of many an information search. This noxious weed has even been  mentioned in a few of my past blogs and  found intermittently in my cottage garden,so it certainly should come as no surprise that I have witnessed first hand that it can indeed spread widely! Still, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that even on vacation I would find it… on an island!

Yes, I have currently visited Pelee Island and there the, rash inducing vine was  just waiting for me!  I was walking along enjoying the beautiful island scenery on a lovely sunny day, unaware of what lay below! Walking between the stones in the older section of the island’s cemetery, I saw one particular head stone had fallen over and a weed sticking out between the pieces. Thinking of respectfully clearing it away, I reached down only to catch myself in time to avoid touching the three leaves!

Point Ivy rest in Peace

 

After recovering from that surprise, I scanned other areas of the cemetery and noticed the Poison Ivy spreading to the point of taking over a family plot. Then of course there was more! Several trees had it climbing up their bark, it was growing in the sand and on the path at Fish Point Park…Canada’s most southerly point and it was on almost every walking trail! 

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee Island

Now I was careful to walk, as the Buddhists would say, with mindfulness! My eyes were peeled to the ground around me as I walked in sandal-ed feet. Despite this green plaque, I did have a lovely time and would recommend visiting Pelee. On the horticulture front, there was an unusual site…that of some strange disease that left red bumps on the leaves of the poison Ivy. Could this be our salvation?

 

Poison Ivy with disease

 Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

I have decided that while there are many things that kill the toxic weeds in small patches, killing in large scale requires a great deal of work. What is not apparent with all sprays, blocking and cutting controls methods is the HUGE amount of patience and dedication required by the murderer ( alias the gardener)!

Surely if birds or contaminated soil brought the seeds to this island, how do we stand a chance against Poison Ivy spreading ? In fact, whether here in Ontario or our neighbours to the South, it seems the berries from poison ivy are an attractive food to a wide variety of birds .According  other sites I have read, over 50 species of birds are known to eat the small white round berries.

After further reading, I have come to realize that despite my personal run-ins with poison ivy, the rash, blisters and swelling, it is just another weed that can be controlled with lots of work. The biggest surprise was how interesting the information was on this particular plant is.

Many sites provide good information on how the birds transport the seeds. Stating that the non-digestible seeds are, passed out in to the soil and fertilized by the very birds that ate them, certainly explains the plants spread. I assume then, as Pelee Island and the surrounding area is on a major migratory route and home to vast varieties of birds, finding this Poison Ivy spreaad to an island shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Poison Ivy Friend

 

In fact the extent of this particular poisonous plant is from parts of Mexico in the south, in to the northern parts of Canada. Details provided in my searching say the plants can grow in most types of soil, from pH 6.0 to 7.9 (slightly acidic to slightly basic) and can tolerate moderate shade to full sun. Wow, it certainly is resilient!

One natural factor against the plant is high altitude as provided by the Rocky Mountains. The thinner air above 4000 feet seems to stifle these plants and to provide a physical barrier in both Canada and the U.S.A, with Poison Ivy on the east and poison Sumac in the west. Certainly nature does what it wants and like all perennial weeds, poison Ivy is determined to spread unless we work on controlling it.

Control and elimination are something that plaques many of us, especially if we have suffered with the rash, blisters and pain left by the urushiol from all parts of this plant .Yet, to the Japanese this oily compound is highly valued  as a finish  used  since the 16th century as the finish on their Lacquerware. The process they use is quite fascinating, but the source there is an urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera) which is becoming rare. At least with a tree, other trees would be safe from the clinging vine that eventually can strangle them and walking trails would be safer.

Despite any risk in my hiking on Pelee Island, the views and people there were lovely and I would recommend the ferry ride as well. From the most southern point of Canada, looking across the vast expanse of the sand point and the water beyond, the poison ivy spread  on Pelee Island was forgotten…and inspiration was supreme!

 

Pelee Island Fish Point Park

 

 

Other sources of information:

www.ontariotrees.com

 

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weedguide

 

Enhanced Species: Poison Ivy

 

www.stutler.cc/pens/wajima/urushi.html